Adding a Cat to a Dog-Friendly Home
Adding a cat to a dog-friendly home can feel like a tall order because we've been conditioned to think that cats and dogs don't get along. Yet, the right cat and dog pair can be fast friends and can also enrich each other's lives. When bringing home a new cat or kitten to your existing dog, keep these recommendations in mind to make it the best introduction it can be for everyone.
New Pet Separation Period
Before bringing home your new pet, come up with a plan for where your new cat or kitten will stay initially. Ideally, they should have a space large enough to hold their litter and food, a comfy bed, and some enrichment toys. The litter box and food should be as far apart as possible because cats are very clean animals and usually don't want to eat near where they eliminate.
The ideal spot will also have a solid door to separate the cat and dog initially. Through a solid door, the two strangers can get to know each other safely, sniffing, listening to, and pawing at the other while in their safe space.
Don't worry, you won't have to do this forever, just the initial few days or weeks, depending on how comfortable your pets are with each other through the door.
New Pet Supervision
Your new cat and existing dog will not be separated 24/7. They will be able to interact slowly once the initial few days of separation are over. Assuming you don't see any aggression or distress through the solid door, your pets should be able to be in the same room under the right circumstances for short periods.
If you're concerned your dog may hurt the cat, or maybe your dog has never been around cats, then keep your dog on a leash and keep lots of training treats handy. When you see your dog happy, content, or even relaxed in the presence of the new cat, reward them for their kindness and good behavior.
Let the cat have free run of the area without giving them too much space. You don't want to lose your cat to a closet or under a bed if they get too scared. You just want to give them a safe distance from your dog and a place to climb or hide where you can reach them if they get scared.
New Pet Safety
Safety is, of course, paramount when bringing a new cat to a dog-friendly home. To begin with, you should discuss your existing family dynamics, your dog's history, their comfort with small animals, etc. with the rescue or breeder before committing to your new pet. Most rescues will guide you and some may even deny you if they think your dog may pose a risk. They may ask you to bring your dog into their adoption center or to a foster's home to ensure that they don't see any concerning behaviors that could indicate a mismatch.
Once you receive the green light from the rescue or breeder, invest in tools and supplies before bringing home your new cat. Ideally, bringing home a cat will be a decision you make slowly. You will take your time choosing the right cat to ensure they fit well with your family. During that process, start to think about what accessories and tools you'll need to keep everyone safe and comfortable.
When considering safety and tools, always have a plan on where each pet will be fed once the separation period is over. You don't want any animosity from either party because the other is stealing their food. Many dogs and cats will stop eating altogether if they feel their food or feeding area is unsafe or threatened therefore it's in everyone's best interest to separate feeding long-term.
Why is proper feeding important? Well, pet food is designed for each species therefore you don't want your dog getting into your cat's food and vice versa. Plus, allowing pets to steal food from each other is a surefire way to create a negative dynamic and could even result in a confrontation.
These days, we have access to attractive and functional pet accessories and tools that make everyone's life easier. The right tools will also make cohabitation between cats and dogs more pleasant. Following is a list of items you'll want to consider setting up before the initial separation period is over:
- Covered litter box to keep dogs out
- Cat condos or other elevated surfaces where your new kitty can enjoy his or her meals
- Cat trees where your new cat can watch their new friend from afar and learn their habits
- Wall-mounted cat shelves for the cat or kitten to get their exercise without having to interact with the resident dog unless they want to
One of the best products I've purchased since Van Gogh joined our family is this beautiful cat condo from Wayfair that matches our decor. If you see on this stock photo from the Wayfair website, the cat condo comes with cushions that stay on with velcro. To use the second shelf from the top as a feeding surface, we flipped the shelf so the velcro is on the bottom and eliminated the pad entirely. It's high up enough that Caera can't jump up on it, the condo attaches to the wall for extra stability, and the feeding shelf can be easily wiped after meals. I kept the extra cushion in case we have to replace one of the others down the line.
I personally believe in feeding resident pets near each other. I usually feed them in the area where we eat, but not close enough to make mealtimes stressful. We feed our dog near the kitchen sink and Van Gogh eats his meals atop this condo, which is in the same general area but far enough away they don't even have to see each other. They share their cute water fountain but that's only because Caera prefers it to her usual water bowl.
I also found Door Buddy online through a social media ad and am thrilled that I purchased it. I use them to keep Caera out of Van Gogh's litter boxes. Open box or not, Caera has been expressing lots of interest in his "business," which makes me nervous because eating litter can lead to stomach upset, parasites, obstruction, or worse.
I got two Door Buddy door straps with the door stop. They are easy to install and work great. One is on the door to our den where we keep our shoes, etc. I placed this Door Buddy low enough for the kids to use it. I asked them to ensure it stays latched when they aren't accessing their things. They only access the room when going out or coming back home so there is no need for the door to be open all day. And, as a bonus, Van Gogh has the den to himself if he ever needs a break from Caera.
I installed the second Door Buddy on my office door. For this door, I installed the latch system high enough that only adults can reach it. I usually don't like to have my kids in my office because it's where I record my show and keep my lights and equipment. That said, I placed Van Gogh's second litter box in my office therefore I'd like him to access it at his leisure. He's a very good cat and usually hangs out where we are therefore I don't mind him having access to my office. Even when we're away, he usually hangs out downstairs and won't likely enter my office unless I'm inside working.
I really like that Door Buddy designed this product to include a door stopper (it looks like a horseshoe in the photo) with their door strap system because it prevents fingers, toes, and paws from getting caught in the door whether it's latched or not. As a mom to a three and five-year-old, that's genius!!! Plus, they include an extra 3M adhesive in case you need to reposition.
I'm a believer in having at least one litter box on each floor of the house therefore having Door Buddy allows me to place the litter boxes in spaces that are convenient for us, keep our dog out of the box, and work with our family's existing spaces and routines.
Patience & Expectation Setting
As I shared previously, I was very strategic when I brought Van Gogh home. My husband was traveling, which gave me uninterrupted access to our guest bathroom for 10 days. My kids were at school so I could organize the house that morning before bringing our kitty home in the afternoon. And, I, of course, took my time finding the right cat to join our family, discussing my dog's history and family's goals with The Cat's Meow Las Cruces before choosing our new pet.
I had set up the litter box, bed, food, etc. in our guest bathroom before Van Gogh even stepped foot in our home but was also mentally prepared for the weeks ahead. I knew it'd be an adjustment for all involved and wanted to do it right the first time so that I didn't have to start over from scratch down the line.
Today, Caera and Van Gogh are happily coexisting and developing a friendship that is wonderful to watch. As their friendship has blossomed, they have gone from making each other slightly uneasy to playing together. They consistently find their way near each other when we're home and relaxing, and I find them in the same room even when we're gone.
Observing their body language, cutting interactions short when they were starting to get stressed, and taking our time to reward desired behaviors from both of them have made this adjustment period fun. I hope that their friendship continues to grow in a way that allows each of them autonomy and distance when they need it and closeness when they want it, which is why I took my time with our preparation, introduction, and tool choices.
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